CodeChem: A Place Where Love Prevails

CodeChem: A Place Where Love Prevails

It’s Pride Month! While Pride plays a crucial role in society because it celebrates and accepts diversity, the same goes for our workplace. We spend one-third of our life with our coworkers, more than spending with our families or pursuing hobbies. The person sitting next to you is not just someone you share your desk with. It is your friend and coworker who maybe feels scared to reveal another side of themselves, afraid of being outcasted and even discriminated against because of it.

So we’re here to set the record straight: CodeChem is a place where everyone is welcome!

We usually start the day by grabbing a cup of coffee, which paves the way for discussing different topics. Whether personal or technical, we always share some stories, usually on the balcony, and open up to each other. This is how we learn that we work in a safe and equal environment for everyone.

Being honest, supportive, and understanding are one of the core values of CodeChem. So in the spirit of those values, we asked some of our colleagues to share their experiences as queer people working in CodeChem. We aim to shine a light on their experiences through a conversation with our software engineers Aleksandra Zografska (Zogsi) and Dejan Slamkov (Deki).

So let’s hear their thoughts.

Why is it essential to have an inclusive working environment for a Queer person?

Deki: We can all agree, straight and queer, that keeping secrets is not fun, especially from people you spend a third of your day with. Now multiply that feeling by 100 when you think that secret can cost you your job, your friends, your family, and in extreme cases, your life. That is how queer people feel in unwelcoming environments. You would not want to live with that mental toll, so if there is a way to avoid that, it’s welcomed with open arms by queer people.

Zogsi: Even though relations are kept professional, we still share much of our time with our colleagues in the workplace. Eight hours per day, 40 hours a week, is a big chunk of our time. Undeniably, sharing something personal with your colleagues is inevitable. I feel like it’s a great asset to a queer person’s mental health to be aware that there are no opposing threats to being who they are in that environment. I feel a deeper, more meaningful connection with people when I don’t have my mask on, and I feel as if it improves my overall well-being and team collaboration.

Were you expecting to be honest about your queer identity when you started working at CodeChem?

Deki: I was planning to be honest, with time, I’m a fighter, so my mindset was: “If it’s not inclusive, I’m going to make it inclusive.”

Zogsi: Honestly, when I started, I did not expect to be able to say who I was in front of anyone. As in everyday life, I assumed I would need to mask my emotions not to make me or anyone else uncomfortable. It’s just what I was used to, from most places before.

When did you realize that CodeChem provides an inclusive environment?

Deki: It wasn't a single moment but rather a gradual process. I listened closely to how my colleagues spoke and paid attention to their use of language, particularly when it came to the LGBT+ community. Thankfully, I heard a lot of supportive language, which gave me the courage, to be honest with them. I started dropping hints about my attraction to men during conversations about relationships with my colleagues. Their response was overwhelmingly positive, and they didn't seem to mind that a fellow colleague was gay. They were even interested in hearing about my experiences as a gay man, and they listened, understood, and empathized. From start to finish, this entire process is a testament to the inclusivity of CodeChem as a workplace.

Zogsi: At the start, I took a few months to evaluate the situation. I considered my past experiences, those of my friends, and how society is currently set up. After about a month, my dear colleague Nikolaj noticed my radiant smile while I was looking at my phone. His curiosity prompted me to be honest and share with him what was going on.

How do CodeChem’s values resonate with your own?

Deki: The values of listening, understanding, openness, empathy, and helping others lay close to my heart. I am super happy I found a workplace where those values are cherished and promoted. I hope that now I am further contributing to promoting those values.

Zogsi: Although there is no official guide for CodeChem's values, you can easily sense them through the office atmosphere. Personal growth is highly valued here, encouraging openness and honesty among colleagues. This value fosters inclusion and positive discussions, which help break down discriminatory barriers. As a result, I feel comfortable being myself and open with my colleagues.

What would be the difference between working in an inclusive and noninclusive environment?

Deki: The difference is respect. My colleagues respect me for my work and what I bring to the company, not based on my sexuality.

Zogsi: One significant difference is the level of connection with other people. Dishonesty in one's surroundings often leads to feelings of alienation.

What are your fears as a Queer person?

Deki: My biggest fear is that someday I will lose hope. I hope for a family, a free society, and a life where I can one day hold my boyfriend’s hand without getting harassed on the streets—a life where I can even consider proposing. I’m scared of a future without hope.

Zogsi: One of my biggest fears is the possibility of having to leave my beloved home - Skopje. While I enjoy living here and my current lifestyle, I am uncertain if there are enough opportunities for me to start a family.*

Why do you think that people hide their identity?

Deki: While CodeChem guarantees safety and inclusion for queer people in its offices, the same cannot be said for the outside world. Our society can be cruel, and often queer people are forced to remain “in the closet” simply to preserve their mental and physical health. Sometimes just openly saying you are gay puts a target on your back. One such example comes from my personal experience when my life was threatened for something I wasn’t even involved in, a threat motivated and inspired by homophobia.

Zogsi: Many queer people feel the need to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity because they have not yet disclosed it to their loved ones. Unfortunately, not everyone reacts positively, and some reactions may even lead to the end of friendships and relationships with family. Initially, I, too, was afraid of this outcome when I first came out. However, over time, I have realized that those who truly understand and try to support me will remain by my side.

For those reasons (and some personal ones), some of our queer colleagues wished to remain anonymous. We understand and want to respect that decision, but that does not mean their experiences are invalid.

Hence, we are sharing thoughts from other [anonymous] colleagues involved in the discussion:

“Unfortunately, I’ll have to remain anonymous because outside of CodeChem, I’ve heard enough misconceptions about what it means to be queer, and I’d rather not be associated with those ideas. However, I’d still like to spread the word on our safe haven here at CodeChem, so that new people who join can be authentic from day 1 in our offices. “

Final thoughts:

CodeChem believes in respect and inclusivity. We recognize and appreciate the unique qualities of each individual and work together to support our growth. Our goal is to foster a welcoming environment where everyone feels embraced and valued, and we are happy to be part of it.